American Graduate | KERA News

American Graduate

Bill Zeeble / KERA News

When we last talked to Ricky Rijos Jr. for KERA’s Class of ’17 project, the freshman at Flower Mound High confidently figured he would make one of two freshman basketball teams, and he has. It’s just not clear which one yet. He’s relatively short for now, but ninth graders have been known to grow. He belongs to a traveling team and works hard on his shooting, which he concluded would be at least one plus for the team.

What does it take to finish high school? In this hour-long special, you’ll meet six North Texas students tackling this topic. Four of the students will describe the odds they’ve had to overcome to graduate while two are still trying to finish.

If you missed it on KERA TV Wednesday night, you can watch the entire show online. We’d also like to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using #studentsspeakout.

Mayra Millan is the daughter of a single mother. And they’re tight.

So when Mom was diagnosed with congestive heart failure a couple of years back, “I was devastated,” Mayra tells KERA’s Krys Boyd. “The good thing is, I didn’t have to learn the hard way. She’s doing fine now.”

Ashley Tilley wasn’t completely alone. She had her older sister along at least some of the time while she was bouncing around the foster care system. Her mother was coping with a mental illness, so Ashley had to come to terms with a new normal.

She tells KERA’s Krys Boyd that she and her sister are “just now talking about it ’cause it’s a shock…. You think it’s normal until you see other people and then it’s not.”

Scottie Gipson wants to own his own business. And after dropping out for three years, he now knows he’ll need to finish high school and go to college to accomplish that goal.

Scottie didn’t have a very stable life as a kid. His father’s been in and out of prison; he says his mother didn’t really seem to care whether he went to school or not. Scottie dropped out at 15 and began using and selling drugs to make ends meet.

When Prabhesh Patel was 5 years old, his father was killed in a car accident that also severely injured his mother. “She went into a coma for about three months,” he tells KERA’s Krys Boyd. “She couldn’t remember my parents or my dad, or really that I was even her son, which was a little scary.”

As his mom recovered, Prabhesh poured his energy into school and work. He graduated from Fort Worth’s South Hills High School last spring, and he’s now on a full scholarship at Texas Christian University.

Jarrell Brown is an achiever, and even after meeting him you might not know just how difficult it was for him to get good grades, play sports and win college scholarships.

Brought up in a tough neighborhood, Jarrell worked hard in school, was elected  president of his senior class at Dallas’ South Oak Cliff High School and earned a full ride to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he’s just started his freshman year.

Leslie Beltran didn’t think she’d ever graduate from high school. After she got pregnant at 15 and dropped out, she tells KERA’s Krys Boyd, “Education really didn’t cross my mind. It didn’t seem as important to me as having the baby.”

Willow Blythe / KERA News

On this first day of school for most kids across the state, we check in with one of the North Texas students we’re following from 8th grade all the way to graduation. Today, we catch up with a member of KERA’s Class of 17 – Ricky Rijos Jr., who’s starting his freshman year at Flower Mound High.

Willow Blythe / KERA News

Last week, we introduced you to Chance Hawkins, a 15-year-old teen battling Duchenne muscular dystrophy who maintains a positive outlook on life in spite of the physical and academic challenges he’s facing. He failed the STAAR test at Dunbar Middle School and his mom was determined to find a smaller school for him.

Texas Graduation rates continue to go up and have a reached a new record high, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said Tuesday.

A study released by the Texas Education Agency shows the Class of 2012 had a graduation rate of 87.7 percent up from 85.9 percent in 2011. The graduation rate has steadily increased since the class of 2007 when 78 percent of students graduated.

Willow Blythe / KERA News

Like most 14-year-olds, Jerry Harris is out of school for the summer. That means time to take it easy and hang out with friends. But for Jerry, it also means a contract -- one that he wrote -- to start many mornings at 5:30 a.m. and, as he printed in block letters, to "WORK."

Jerry's one of the students KERA is following all the way through high school in the series Class of '17, part of the station’s American Graduate initiative. And as tough as that summer contract might be, even tougher is what comes in just three weeks: high school.

Everyone agrees that graduation is a crucial milestone on the path to adulthood. And according to a recent Education Week report, the national graduation rate has actually increased to nearly 75 percent – a level not seen since the 1970s.

Willow Blythe / KERA News

Heading to high school is a challenge for any kid. There are new friends, new teachers and the normal ups and downs of being a teenager.

For 15-year-old Chance Hawkins, the road is even tougher. Chance has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that causes muscle weakness and deterioration. It’s often fatal by age 25.

Still, Chance is an upbeat kid. He's one of the students we’re following from 8th grade through high school for the series Class of 17, part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative.

More than 240 Dallas students who had quit school got their diplomas over the weekend.  In a continuation of KERA’s American Graduate project, Shelley Kofler looks at how they beat the odds.

Stella M. Chávez / KERA News

For eighth grade students heading to high school, summer’s supposed to be a fun time. But for one Mesquite girl, it’s been kind of stressful. In this installment of KERA’s series Class of ’17, we meet Alex Gutierrez who didn’t have the math grades to get into the private high school she wanted. Now, she’s going to have to get through summer school to advance to the ninth grade.

Bill Zeeble / KERA News

Making the jump from middle to high school is one of those big moments in a kid’s life. In the latest installment of KERA’s education series Class of ’17, we meet Kelli Bowdy and her strongest educational influence, her grandmother, at the 8th grade graduation ceremony at Morningside Middle School in Fort Worth.

Bill Zeeble / KERA

As part of a nationwide public broadcasting initiative called American Graduate, KERA is following a diverse group of North Texas eighth graders all the way through high school. Today in the series “Class of ’17,” we meet a kid whose dad dropped out of college but passed on a love of hoops and a passion for hard work.

Bill Zeeble / KERA News

The statistics are shocking: One of every four kids in an American high school drops out. That’s why KERA has joined a national public broadcasting initiative, called American Graduate, to explore the dropout crisis. Today, we’re starting a new series called Class of ’17 that will follow a handful of North Texas eighth graders from across the economic and ethnic spectrum all the way to high school graduation. First up: a 13-year-old dealing with his parents' divorce and a learning disability -- on the basketball court.

Bill Zeeble / KERA News

In the battle to keep students in school, experts often target the ends of the educational spectrum: early childhood, when kids pick up basic skills, and high school, when most dropouts happen. But some are starting to look in a different direction – the middle.

Janine Khammash / KERA News

Texas schools lose one out of every four students who drop out between 9th and 12th grades. The problem is especially alarming for Hispanic and black males, who are more than twice as likely to leave school. So what's gone wrong?

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